Blazers Test the Zone
By mikebarrett Posted in: Blazers, Kings
We said after the win over the Lakers in the preseason opener that learning how to win is important in the exhibition season, and how a victory can help build confidence in a young team. After a loss, like the one in Phoenix, the message switched to something like, well, the final score doesn't matter in the games that don't really count. Both statements carry some truth, but clearly you take something from all of these warm-up games.
What did the Blazers take from their 117-100 loss in Sacramento on Monday night? They need some more time, and some more practice, playing this zone defense.
The Blazer coaching staff said before any games were played that they were going to take one of these games and experiment with the zone defense, almost exclusively. In fact, they said at one point they had planned to play zone defense for an entire preseason game. But, after falling behind by 20 points in the first half against the Kings, the zone was quietly replaced.
The damage, however, was done, and the Blazers found themselves in a hole that was a little too deep. To their credit they bounced back and closed the gap in the second half, but ended up falling in Sacramento 117-100.
Of course, this doesn't mean we won't be seeing any more of the zone. This simply gives the coaches a baseline for how this team has grasped this particular style of zone. As Terry Stotts said after the game, they've only worked on this defense in practice for about four days, and it takes more time than that, clearly, to get it down.
So, file this one under "teaching opportunity." They'll break down the video of the zone, extensively, and attempt to make adjustments. That's the nice thing about the preseason.
It's not like this style of zone defense hasn't been proven to be effective. It's what Stotts pushed the Dallas Mavericks to use, and it helped them win an NBA title. The Trail Blazers are just in the early stages of the learning curve.
A zone defense can be effective if you're undersized, and it's likely Portland will play small, at least on the front line, much of the time. But, when you're packed into a zone, you often can't cover the three-point line as well, and it's tough to rebound out of a zone. It can, however, be easier to fast break out of a zone defense- as long as you're not taking the ball out of the net every time, and the Blazers were doing plenty of that against the Kings.
On Friday, the Phoenix Suns shot 51 percent against the Blazers, and were 10 for 20 from behind the three-point line. The Kings shot 55 percent from the field, and ended 11 for 22 on threes. That's not a good trend. So, the Blazers, who spend the first few days of training camp working almost exclusively on defense, will want to stick with that theme.
As for the positives, Damian Lillard was very solid offensively. He ended with 20 points, and was 4 for 8 from behind the arc. He's now averaging 16 points through the first three games, and is shooting 47 percent. And, he's playing about 10 fewer minutes per game than he's going to get in the regular season, so that's a good sign.
LaMarcus Aldridge will continue to slowly ramp up his production, and his offensive responsibility, as we move ahead during the preseason. He had 16 points and 7 rebounds, but once again wasn't sharp from the field going 5 for 15. That'll improve. He's got good shots against the Kings, just like he did in Phoenix, and they are shots he normally puts down.
Nic Batum had 14 points and 5 assists, which was positive. But, he also had 6 rebounds, including 3 offensive rebounds. Forget the points, his rebounding is what the coaches will be focusing on after this game. They are pounding on Batum to be a better rebounder, and with his length and athleticism, can earn Portland a lot of extra opportunities on the offensive glass.
With the ankle injury to Ronnie Price, the door is open for Nolan Smith to get a bigger shot here in the rest of these preseason games. He played 19 minutes against the Kings, and was more effective. He had 6 points and 4 assists, but seemed to have a better command of the offense.
We saw Will Barton for the first time in the exhibition season, as he played 9 minutes and hit 2 of his 3 shots. A decent first outing. And, Meyers Leonard, who we've said will be in foul trouble a lot during the early part of this season, had 5 fouls in 15 minutes of action. He's learning.
Following three-straight road games to start the preseason, the Trail Blazers will now have three-straight home games, starting on Wednesday night when they host the Denver Nuggets.
We'll carry the next three games on TV.